UNC Scandal

Study of past academic fraud cases suggests NCAA will go easy on UNC

Two prominent NCAA critics have published a study that suggests the association holds back on serious punishment for men’s basketball and football programs at top colleges when it comes to academic fraud.

David Ridpath, an Ohio University sports management professor, and Gerald Gurney, an Oklahoma University education professor, along with Eric Snyder, also an Oklahoma University education professor, reviewed academic fraud cases in Division I football and men’s basketball going back to 1990. They say the NCAA’s enforcement is inconsistent and reflects something known as “Fletcher’s Theory of Situational Ethics,” which speaks to decisions based on what works best in the current situation, instead of what the rules would stipulate.

The NCAA is an association of colleges that participate in sports. Men’s basketball is the prime money-maker for the NCAA, while football typically brings in the most money for schools in the five major conferences that include the ACC.

“In essence the enterprise is punishing itself for violation of self-regulated principles,” they write. “A negative investigation of the association, specifically in football and men’s basketball, can unquestionably result in loss of revenue streams, certain institutional probation and scholarship reductions, and loss of competition that negatively impacts television ratings and may violate media contracts.”

They cite cases in which the NCAA did not tackle independent studies scandals at Michigan and Auburn that involved athletes. They also compare the treatment of Arkansas State University, a member of a mid-major conference that was fined $43,500 in the case of one cheating athlete, with football power Florida State that received no fines in a case involving dozens of athletes.

Ridpath said in a Forbes essay that the NCAA’s track record suggests it will go easy on UNC as its investigation into the university’s academic scandal involving fake classes proceeds. The NCAA’s enforcement division has delivered notice to UNC of five major allegations, including impermissible benefits and a lack of institutional control that have yet to be heard by the Committee on Infractions.

Ridpath and Gurney are leaders of The Drake Group, an organization of academics and others pushing to clean up college sports; its board includes Mary Willingham, a whistleblower in the UNC scandal. In the essay, Ridpath speaks well of The News & Observer’s coverage of the case, and it is cited several times in the study. Ridpath and Gurney have been quoted several times in our coverage.

The study in the Journal of Legal Aspects of Sport can be found here this week and next. The NCAA declined comment.